Ten cotton growers from six Southeast U.S. states toured California farming operations in mid-August as part of the National Cotton Council’s annual Producer Information Exchange (P.I.E.) Program.
Now in its 30th year, the mid-summer tour of U.S. growing operations takes cotton farmers from their home regions to a different growing region to see how farmers there produce the food and fiber. For many growers the trip to California is an opportunity to see irrigated agriculture on a scale they may have never experienced.
During their tour of the San Joaquin Valley farmers typically see Pima cotton plantings, processing tomato harvest, table and wine grape vineyards, and large, diversified farms that include row crops and tree nuts. This year’s tour gave growers a glimpse into specialty crops including peppers, seed lettuce and seed alfalfa.
The week-long trip starts with a visit to the Fresno office of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, where association President Roger Isom highlights the heavy regulatory burdens Golden State farmers face.
“You ought to pay attention to what you see and hear this week,” Isom said. “You don’t want these rules to affect your states.”
For instance, Isom highlighted labor regulations and air rules that make producing a bale of cotton almost double the price it is elsewhere in the United States. One of the examples Isom cites is Workers’ Compensation Insurance costs on opposite sides of the Colorado River, dividing Arizona from California. While cotton gins on the Arizona side pay $14 per $100 of payroll, California gins pay double that rate.
Costly upgrades mandated by air board rules in California forced several gins in the past few years to go out of business, Isom said.
Garrett Boyd, a corn, soybean and cotton farmer from Pinetown, N.C. seemed amazed at what he saw during the tour.
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff I’ve never seen before,” he said standing among fields of carrots and peppers at Terranova Ranch near Helm, Calif.
Randall Beers is a fifth-generation farmer in central Alabama who grows cotton, peanuts, field corn and pecans. His grandfather planted the initial pecan groves that still exist on the farm today.
“I hated those trees growing up,” he said. “I’m a cotton farmer first.”
He likes growing peanuts because they are a good scavenger of fertilizer, he says.
Beers is the current board president of the M.A.D.H. Cooperative Gin in Selma, Ala.
Bayer Crop Science sponsors the annual P.I.E. Tour each year through a grant to The Cotton Foundation.